China is scrambling to contain its most widespread Covid-19 outbreak since the first wave of infections that began in Wuhan in 2019.
Though subsequent flare-ups have seen higher total case numbers, this outbreak has spread the furthest, with 19 of China’s 31 provinces — more than half the country — reporting cases since the outbreak began in mid-October, according to the National Health Commission (NHC). On Wednesday, the NHC reported 93 new symptomatic cases — the highest daily count in three months. About 500 cases have been reported nationwide since the outbreak began, according to state-run tabloid the Global Times.
The number may seem small compared to other countries in the West, many of which are still reporting tens of thousands of cases each day. But it’s massive for China, which has stuck to its “zero-Covid” approach, including tight border controls and lengthy quarantines for international arrivals. This approach — which aims to stamp out the virus completely within China’s borders — means even a handful of cases are viewed as a dire threat.
The ongoing outbreak began on October 16, when infections were detected among a tour group of fully vaccinated senior citizens from Shanghai traveling in northern China. Cases quickly ballooned and spread across northern provinces; by the following week, officials from the National Health Commission warned of “multiple scattered local outbreaks” in the north and northwest that were “expanding rapidly.” Authorities immediately jumped into action, following the playbook that has successfully contained previous outbreaks: mass testing, snap lockdowns, quarantines, travel suspensions and vigilant surveillance.